Monday, October 29, 2012

A Triumphant Return to Orkney

I first arrived in Orkney on the night of 7th September 2004. It turned out to be an unexpected paradise, and for the subsequent eight years, one month, and fifteen days, I dreamed of returning. Last Thursday, just before midnight, I achieved that dream.

Ladies and gentlemen, I spent the weekend in Orkney, one of my two favorite non-American locations on the planet. I spent the entire weekend experiencing what the islands had to offer to me, and took more than 250 pictures. Orkney boasts such a wealth of history, and so many distinct and fascinating attractions, that there would be no way to do any of it justice with just one post. Therefore, over the ensuing weeks, I'll be posting one or two features about Orkney per week under the featured tag "Island Paradise". After more than eight years, it will be a labor of love that I expect to perceive as being practically effortless.

Pictured is me at the top of Wideford Hill, overlooking the Orcadian capital of Kirkwall. Stay tuned, 'cause there's plenty more where that came from.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Three Busy Weeks

It's been sort of a busy week. The next couple of weeks look busy, too. Here's what's been going on.

Today was our first for-credit event. Well, let me qualify that: a few people have made presentations in Strategic Intelligence, but the first main event for all of us was today. With a time limit of ninety minutes and four available topics, we were to write an essay of approximately two thousand words. The available topics were as follows:

1. What is strategy, and how useful is strategic analysis in national security policy-making?

2. Identify the tenets of the strategic thought of two of the following: Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Van Creveld. Assess their validity to modern conditions of conflict.

3. Explain why and how the conduct of war was transformed between 1815 and 1914.

4. Consider the view that the use of the military instrument is no longer a viable foreign policy option.

We were allowed a half-sheet of notes, not to exceed one hundred fifty words. Over the last several days, we carefully assembled these note sheets - mine was put together a couple of weeks ago, and I refined it twice last night. From the sound of things, everybody came ready for a fight today, because everyone I talked to was pretty satisfied with their performance. My confidence, preparation, and pre-exam rituals paid off. I won't know for sure until next week, but I'm fairly confident in my performance. I was taught to write well, and under duress, by four of the best teachers and professors a guy could hope for. I was also taught military history by a series of exceptional instructors, and for that I'm quite grateful.

So, that kept me busy the last couple of days. My presentation for Strategic Intel is tomorrow afternoon, and I'll be spending Friday, Saturday, and Monday working on a project to be discussed later.

In mid-November, I have a five thousand word essay due for Strategic Intel, but Gus will also be arriving during that timeframe with my other sea bag, so I'm going to try to get that essay completed next week. I've got it to about seventy-five percent, what remains is to finish the writing, refine the writing and format, and then reformat it for submission. I think that if I focus next week, I can get it done.

I have a few items waiting in the hopper, so I'll try to spread them out over the course of next week. Stay tuned. Good things are coming to the Operation Highlander blog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Around Aberdeen: A Well-Defended Barber

In 2004, I accidentally stumbled upon an Aberdeen landmark while I was looking for the Central Library.

That's a statue of the legendary William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland and ally to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Since then, it's been one of the landmarks I've used to plan before my arrival, and to navigate by since my return a few weeks ago. One of the bus stops on the route that runs from campus is adjacent to the statue, so I'll often get off at that stop and walk the rest of the way to whatever destination is on my agenda.

The first week I was there, I noticed something important:

I went in a few weeks ago to have them trim my beard, and I've been in twice since then to have my head shaved. Like in the Middle East, I was offered coffee or tea, lathered up, and shaved clean with a straight razor. I love having a fresh shave on my head, and having a Turk, or an Iranian, or a Pakistani do it is a fantastic experience. My first experience with a Middle Eastern barber took place in London in March of 2003, with a Turkish barber. I had never, and haven't since, had an American barber provide the kind of service available from Middle Eastern barbers. When I lived in the Middle East, my favorite thing to do was go get my head shaved and beard trimmed by a Pakistani barber. I looked forward to it and savored it while it was happening.

So, the next time you need your beard trimmed or your head shaved in Aberdeen, head on over to City Barber, near the William Wallace statue at the north end of Union Terrace Gardens.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One Pub Crawl to Rule Them All

On Saturday night, the 2012/'13 MSc in Strategic Studies class held a pub crawl.

I started my night at Lionel's, and loaded up on a big plate of kebab and chips. From there, I made my way to the first stop The Archibald Simpson. The group began to conglomerate, and those who hadn't eaten enjoyed a dinner of burgers and beers. I reacquainted myself with Carlsberg. The conversations were varied and, for the most part, segregated by location. By the time we we had been there a couple of hours, those in attendance were Ness, Odin, Sister, Homeboy, GBU-16, Kaiser, and myself.

At this point, we moved across the street to the Old Blackfriars, where I enjoyed a Guinness, and where we were joined by Slapshot and his fetching girlfriend, whose code name I imagine to be forthcoming. When we'd finished there, it was around the block to The Illicit Still, where I enjoyed a pint of Best. (I can't remember what the brewing company was, and a search for "best beer" doesn't exactly turn up any useful results. Topics of conversation included Italy, and the sordid cultural practices of the Greeks and Afghans. Our next stop was the Siberia Vodka Bar, where we stayed for only about twenty minutes, long enough for a couple of shots. Then, it was across the street to Slain's Castle, where I enjoyed a nip of The MacAllen, followed by a round of shots of sambuca - Sister and I were less than thrilled by the black licorice taste, her less so than me.

As Slain's Castle (not the be confused with Slane Castle in Ireland) was closing, and GBU-16 in particular was getting a bit peckish, there was only one option: off to Lionel's.

Our group ordered some chow, and was joined momentarily by Vlad. As usual, the crew at Lionel's took excellent care of us. Having lost Slapshot and his companion by that point, Odin and Kaiser left while we were all at Lionel's, and the rest of us decided amongst ourselves to head to one more venue: the Grosvenor G Casino. Once inside, I decided that I didn't want to give them a bunch of my personal information, so while my party went inside, I decided to have myself a bit of a stroll. I photographed a statue (images forthcoming), and found one of Aberdeen's portable urinals.

When the casino run was over, we parted company, and Sister and I stood in line for around half an hour waiting for a cab. It turned out that two of the three guys from my barber shop (post forthcoming) were in line ahead of us, so as one of them enjoyed the company of his date, Sister and I conversed with the other. We finally got a cab, which dropped Sister off, and then took me back to my place. I got to bed shortly after 4:00 AM, and slept until 2:30 PM.

Epic. Truly epic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Proclaimers in Aberdeen

Remember back in July, when I found out that the Proclaimers would be in Orkney? Well, the next best thing to seeing the Proclaimers in Orkney is seeing them in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, I've waited long enough that there aren't really any good seats left, but that won't stop me from plopping down sixty quid on a couple of adequate seats and seeing if I can find someone to go with me.

And for Lady Jaye, who thinks she's never heard of the Proclaimers: yes, you have.

That's their most popular song (in America), but my favorite? From the same album, Sunshine on Leith, it's "Oh Jean". (Fair warning, folks, it's a bit direct.)

Then again, this song from their next album, Hit the Highway, is also quite good.

I can't wait! I'd better buy my tickets today!

Postgraduate Study: A Poor Life Choice?

Apparently The Simpsons have taken the mick out of graduate students, too.

Here's another one - viewer discretion is advised.

In addition, according to the BBC, Scottish universities have dropped in world university rankings according to The Times, save for the University of Edinburgh. (Congratulations, Cali!) I'm actually not particularly worried, though, and I remain confident that my decision to do this particular course in Aberdeen was the right choice, both for me and for my career.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Songs that Remind You 2

I was first made aware of Amy Macdonald when she performed "Slow It Down" on Radio Orkney. Honestly, I think I prefer the acoustic version she did on Radio Orkney better than the album version, but they're both good. Unfortunately, the mp3 is no longer available on Radio Orkney's SoundCloud page. Anyway, Aberdeen's Original 106 has been playing her current single, "This Is The Life".

Without going into too much detail, another album that always reminds me of my time in West Sussex in 2004 is the debut album from Maroon 5, Songs About Jane. Even though it was released two years earlier, they were still promoting it when I was there, and there are a couple of songs in particular that remind me of my time there. I actually bought my copy at a record store in Worthing (which appears to have since gone under). Anyway, a few days ago, I was introduced through Facebook to a cover of the new Maroon 5 single, "One More Night", which made me look up the video itself.

There are two great covers, one by a gaggle of apparent YouTube personalities(?), only one of whom I've ever heard of, and another by a new band that's trying to get off the ground. Here they are.

  • YouTube celebrities' cover
  • Future Ghosts' cover

    I'll keep posting them as they keep coming up.
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2012

    Found: Supply Depot

    Those who know me well know that in addition to spreadsheets, my life is organized using 3"x5" index cards. I'm very particular about my note cards: they have to be white, they have to be blank, and they have to be three inches by five inches. I've looked in several places, but haven't been able to find them.

    That is, until Saturday.

    Feeling the need to accomplish something after puttering around on Saturday, I decided to plug "stationery shop" into Google Maps. What I discovered is that within walking distance of campus, there's a Staples.

    View Larger Map

    It's not labeled on the map, but one of those white warehouses in that commercial park is Staples. It wasn't as big, and didn't boast the kind of selection that an American Staples would boast, but with a bit of help, I was able to find...

    ... index cards. Or, as they appear to be referred to locally, "record cards". They're white, they're blank (unruled), and they're 3"x5"... Which is apparently 76x127 "mm", whatever that means. At any rate, these additional cards, and the ability to resupply them, will help me to study, primarily Arabic, but also possibly some of my security-related studies as well. This is an excellent development, and their proximity to campus is a great boon to my efforts.

    The other office supply I'd like to get a hold of is some 8.5"x11" typing paper. Here, they use "A4", which is closer to legal-sized paper. One of the administrative staff in the School of Social Science said my best bet would be to take some A4 and use the paper cutter to cut it to size, which I may just have to bite the bullet and do. One thing's for sure, "A4" won't fit appropriately into my Kevlar clipboard.

    Monday, October 15, 2012


    There's allegedly one place in the world where Coca Cola and Pepsi are out-sold by a third party soft drink. The place is Scotland, and the soft drink is IRN-BRU (pronounced "Iron Brew").

    According to Wikipedia, the undisputed and infallible source of all knowledge:

    Irn-Bru is a Scottish carbonated soft drink, for long advertised as "Scotland's other national drink" (next to Scotch whisky). It is produced in Westfield, Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire by A.G. Barr of Glasgow, since moving out of their original Parkhead factory in the mid-1990s, and at a second manufacturing site in Mansfield, England. In addition to being sold throughout the United Kingdom, Barr's Irn-Bru is available throughout the world and can usually be purchased where there is a significant community of people from Scotland. Innovative and sometimes controversial marketing campaigns have kept it as the number one selling soft drink in Scotland, where it competes directly with global brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
    I discovered IRN-BRU about two weeks ago, and I've been drinking it every couple of days since then, trying to decide what I think of it. It's not bad, I can say that much. I'll drink Pepsi on occasion, I almost never drink Coke, but IRN-BRU doesn't really have a "cola" taste to it, which helps. It's pretty sweet, and even the sugar free version (which I accidentally drank a few days ago) is still drinkable.

    Also, if you're ordering it at the pub, don't call it "urn-brew", or they'll probably make fun of you.

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: Lionel's Takeaway

    What do you do if you're a Moroccan who looks exactly like Lionel Richie? Simple: you move to Aberdeen and open a kebab shop called Lionel's. Isn't it obvious?

    I wandered into Lionel's Takeaway at the end of my first week in town after running a couple of errands at the Union Square mall in Aberdeen's city center. I just walked in because I saw that it was a kebab shop and I hadn't eaten at a decent kebab shop since I left the United Kingdom in 2004 - even in the Middle East! Once I walked in and saw the name on the menu, then the proprietor, I laughed and asked him if he used to be a singer in the States. What did he do? He put Do It To Me on the stereo... On repeat... For about forty minutes.

    Lionel's partner-in-kebab is Chico, an Algerian. Chico and I have some great discussions about football (soccer), politics, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, and any number of other topics. I've been fascinated with Algeria for years, so it's really great to be able to actually chat with someone whose roots go back there.

    For those readers who don't know what kebabs are, you have a couple of different types. According to Chico, doner kebab - the one on the right - is Turkish and doesn't exist in the Arab countries, which is consistent with my experience. In the areas of the Middle East where I've travelled, it's called shwarma, and it's different from doner kebab. Doner kebab is lamb meat roasted on a rotating skewer, and then cut off into strips and put into a pita. It can be garnished with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and you can eat it with chili sauce or garlic mayonnaise. I get mine with no vegetables and garlic mayonnaise, the latter being about the closest approximation the United Kingdom has to offer in the way of ranch dressing.

    The spit on the right is chicken. One of the menu items is a mixed kebab, and let me tell you, I can barely finish one. On Friday night, I made it through the Fantasia Chicken, which is sort of like chicken alfredo. I love this kebab shop.

    So, the next time you find yourself on Bridge Street in Aberdeen's city center, stop in for a kebab and a chat with Lionel and Chico. You'll be glad that you did!

    Saturday, October 13, 2012

    The Courses: Strategic Intelligence

    Of the two courses required for this sequence, the second is Strategic Intelligence. I've found intelligence fascinating for a number of years, and I'm eager to work with the professor - let's call him "E" - and the rest of the class to learn how intelligence impacts strategy and the strategic level of international relations.

    As I mentioned previously, these are the textbooks that have been assigned for Strategic Intelligence:

  • Christopher Andrew, Richard J. Aldrich, and Wesley K. Wark: Secret Intelligence: A Reader
  • Michael Herman: Intelligence Power in Peace and War
  • Peter Gill and Mark Phythian: Intelligence in an Insecure World
  • John Keegan: Intelligence in War

    That's nearly seventeen hundred pages. That's a lot of reading, and that's only the vaguely prescribed reading - there were more suggested books. I may try to be selective with what I actually read, because honestly, that's probably physically impossible to read in the time allotted.

    E is quite enthusiastic about intelligence, spies, espionage, and a variety of other related topics. One of the fun results of this is that he's well versed in a variety of anecdotes from the history of intelligence operations. I may relate a couple of them as I'm able.
  • Friday, October 12, 2012

    A Shameless Plug for Google Reader

    I'm writing this mainly for the benefit of my classmates, but some regular blog followers may also find it useful.

    In this program, and in jobs that my classmates and I are likely to hold in the future, a good daily intake of news from multiple sources is critical to maintaining the situational awareness necessary to make recommendations or take actions based upon informed analysis. In the past, I've taken the time each day to go to individual websites and review their news, but thanks to advances in technology, there's a more efficient way to do this.

    My buddy Chops introduced me to Google Reader a couple of years ago, but I only really started using it on a regular basis earlier this year. Google Reader is an RSS aggregator. What that means is that you can plug the links from the RSS feeds of your favorite news websites, blogs, and a variety of other personal interest sites, and they'll all aggregate to a single point. Google Reader allows you to review all new entries in chronological sequence, or sequentially according to source. For example, if three different websites produce nine new entries between them in the course of an hour, you can review all nine in sequence, or you can go to each of the three feeds and review them as individual feeds.

    Here are a couple of videos to introduce you to Google Reader:

    By using Google Reader, I'm able to cut my daily news review times down considerably. Google Reader makes it easy to scroll through articles that aren't of interest, and to read the ones that I feel are important, either within the window itself, or by opening up the individual websites. It allows me to download podcasts efficiently, displays my favorite web comics, and keeps me abreast of websites I might otherwise forget about. I know of at least one U.S. Coast Guard organization that uses Google Reader to aggregate OSINT, I'm reasonably sure that I know of another DoD activity that does the same, and I suspect that the guys at Small Wars Journal use it or something similar when assembling their daily SWJ Roundup. Had I gotten on the ball sooner, Google Reader would have made me a lot more efficient at several of the duties I was tasked with in the Middle East. I can't speak to its accessibility on Apple devices, but before I arrived in Aberdeen and encountered the University's almighty proxy server, I had great results reviewing my feed on Android devices like my Motorola Droid 4 and my Kindle Fire.

    Here's a list of most of what I have in my Google Reader feed:

    Mainstream News:
  • BBC News - Middle East (RSS)
  • BBC News - NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland (RSS)
  • - WORLD (RSS)
  • - WORLD/Middle East (RSS)
  • The Guardian (RSS)
  • Times Of Oman (RSS)
  • Oman Observer (RSS)

    Specialty News and Blogs:
  • 1913 Intel (RSS)
  • CNAS: Abu Muqawama (RSS)
  • CNN Security Clearance Blog (RSS)
  • Michael J. Totten (RSS)
  • Michael Yon (RSS)
  • (RSS)
  • Site Intelligence Group - Jihadist News (RSS)
  • Small Wars Journal (RSS)
  • The Long War Journal (Site-Wide) (RSS)
  • Understanding War (RSS)
  • The Guardian: Julian Borger's global security blog (RSS)
  • Danger Room (RSS)
  • Threat Level (RSS)

  • BBC Xtra Arabic Podcasts (RSS)
  • BBC Documentaries (RSS)
  • BBC Global News Podcast (RSS)
  • BBC Newshour (RSS)
  • KCL Department of War Studies' Podcast (RSS)
  • Past Events - The Heritage Foundation (RSS)
  • KSL Nightside Project (RSS)
  • Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews (RSS)
  • Orkney Talking Newspaper (RSS)
  • The Faroe Islands Podcast (RSS)
  • The History Chicks (RSS)
  • The Sporkful (RSS)

    Personal Interest:
  • NASA: Astronomy Picture of the Day (RSS)
  • Musings from a Stonehead (RSS)
  • Flickr: Callum McKain (RSS)
  • Flickr: chimpaction (RSS)
  • Flickr: Defence Images (RSS)
  • Flickr: Official U.S. Navy Imagery (RSS)
  • Flickr: oregonmildep (RSS)
  • Flickr: Orkneyjar (RSS)
  • Flickr: The U.S. Army (RSS)
  • Flickr: United States Marine Corps Official Page (RSS)

    Web Comics:
  • AmazingSuperPowers (RSS)
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del (RSS)
  • Cyanide and Happiness (RSS)
  • Filibuster Cartoons (RSS)
  • Pearls Before Swine (RSS)
  • Penny Arcade (RSS)
  • Real Life Comics (RSS)
  • Romantically Apocalyptic (RSS)
  • Wondermark (RSS)
  • (RSS)

    A final point: Google Reader also allows users to export and import their feeds from one Google account to another through a simple XML file download/upload. If anyone reading this is interested in saving time by importing my feed file and then adding their own additional selections, let me know and I'll be happy to E-mail it to you.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Part 1

    "England and America are two countries separated by a common language."
    - George Bernard Shaw
    One of the fascinating things about living and studying abroad, particularly in an Anglophone location, is the ability to compare and contrast seemingly arbitrary differences in dialects of the English language. Put simply, this new feature on the Operation Highlander blog will showcase some of the words I encounter that are different in the dialects of the United Kingdom than they are in the American dialect. Here's the first batch.

  • "body polisher" - In some American usage, this might actually sound kind of sordid. In fact, a "body polisher" is what Americans would probably call a "shower sponge".
  • "chemist" - I'm sure "chemist" means "chemist" in some UK usage, but in the most frequent context, it means "pharmacy" or "drug store". I can't help but be reminded of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet.
  • "digs" - Lodgings. I'd be fascinated to learn what the origin of this term is. Everyone is also fairly fond of using the word "accommodation" to refer to where you live - "Where's your accommodation?" and such.
  • "hire" - To rent. For example, I'll likely be dealing with Orkney Car Hire in a few weeks.
  • "mobile" - "Mobile", which is actually picking up usage in the States, is our equivalent to "cell", as in a telephone you carry with you wherever you go. Oddly enough, it was my time in the United Kingdom in 2004 that acquainted me with the phenomenon of texting, which hadn't really caught on in general American society at that point.
  • "pavement" - Sidewalk.
  • "shop/store" - In the States, most people would say "store", but here they say "shop". One of the examples of this that I found quite amusing was the difference on my American and British Android phones, one of which has the Google "Play Store", and the other of which has the Google "Play Shop".
  • "surgical spirit" - I'm assuming that this is the UK equivalent of rubbing alcohol. I went into Boots last week and asked a lovely young blonde for rubbing alcohol, and this is what we came up with. I have yet to use it, so I have yet to find out.
  • "takeaway" - A takeaway is basically any restaurant whose primary purpose is providing food for patrons to collect and take home with them. Some of these establishments have seating so that patrons can eat there, but not much. One would get their food "from a takeaway", while one might put on weight from "eating too many takeaways".
  • "toilet" - This one has always been a challenge for me, because in American English, "toilet" tends to have sort of a dirty connotation. Meanwhile, in UK English, the word refers to what we in the States would call the "rest room" or "bathroom". I prefer to use an alternative British word and phrase - "I need the loo" - when letting people know why I'll be absent for the next couple of minutes.

    That's it for now!
  • Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    Ceilidh Night: Party Like it's 1799

    I'm not much of a party animal, but every now and again I'll make an exception.

    On Saturday night at Aberdeen's Carmelite Hotel, the School of Social Science held a Ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee" because Gaelic makes no sense whatsoever) for staff and postgraduate students - a touch surprising since we'd just had a reception for staff and postgraduates a few days before, but who cares? A shindig's a shindig. CN Homeboy was particularly enthusiastic about the event, and CN Odin talked about going, so I figured it was a good opportunity to sample some Scottish culture. CN Sister showed up as well, so there was a group of four from our cohort. In addition to staff and families, most of the rest of the attendees turned out to be anthropology postgraduates (mostly young women). I arrived with CN Hoosier, who lives near me and asked if I wanted to travel together.

    I'm not much of a dancer, so I was only guilted into one dance at the very end. There was a live Ceilidh band, and members of the troupe demonstrated and coached participants in how to do the dances before the music kicked off each time. I had intended to take a few pictures, but wound up being social, so the only picture I got of the festivities was this one. I'll assume that even though I've not yet gone through the Dramatis Personae of the Strategic Studies program, you readers can probably figure out who's who.

    Some of the music was familiar, though the lyrics (if they exist for the original songs) are probably different. The two songs I recognized that come immediately to mind are "Little Bunny Foo Foo", and some other tune I mentally associate with pirates.

    The event closed down at midnight - about an hour after I had intended to be in bed - but I had stayed in part because I was having a great time socializing and observing, and in part because I was planning to escort CN Hoosier back home. CN Odin suggested that we go to another bar after the event, and we wound up getting a big group consisting of the four of us, a bunch of the anthropology folks, and CN Hoosier (also an anthropologist) and her flatmates to come.

    On the way, we ran across something interesting: open-air urinals. Yes, you read that correctly, and you can read more about it here, and see a picture of the units in use here. Unfortunately, the images are both entirely safe for work. No word yet on whether or not the implementation of such a system constitutes the collapse of Western Civilization.

    Most of us made it to the club on Gallowgate Street (called the Blue Lamp), but as CN Hoosier's flatmates were somewhat unruly by this time, they ended up being unable to make it and went home early. That left four strategists and six or seven anthropologists to dance and/or wallflower near the loo in a tiny club that was probably a converted one bedroom flat. I imagine that most of the patrons were students, and there was a really peculiar mix of adorable young ladies who were dolled up, weird hippy types with dreadlocks and bohemian grunge clothing, and a gaggle of postgraduates (us). The music had the virtue of being recognizable, and apparently not loud enough to make my ears ring afterward.

    At about 01:30, what would turn out to be the last song of the night came on, and it was one of my favorites: Don't Look Back in Anger by Oasis.

    A German anthropologist whom I'd met at the Ceilidh was next to me at this point, and we started singing together, so I grabbed another of my cohort, and within a few seconds our entire group had formed a ring. Much to our surprise, one of the dreadlocked hippy chicks and some dude got into the circle and danced for a verse, then extricated themselves a few seconds later. So, I did what any self-respecting strategist would do: I jumped into the middle of the circle, and for the rest of the song, I belted out the lyrics along with a crude pantomime of various parts. (Let the record note that I was entirely sober at the time.) The song ended, the club went quiet, and as the anthropologists dispersed, the strategists and a few other patrons were the last to leave the club.

    At this point, I needed to get a cab, as I was disinclined to walked the two or three miles back to campus. CN Homeboy and I parted company with CN Odin and CN Sister, and hoofed it to a cab stand I knew, then to another cab stand. CN Homeboy assured me that another cab stand "two minutes walk up Union Street" would be quicker. I guarantee you that we walked for at least ten minutes, maybe fifteen, before reaching this cab stand and parting company. I waited in line for about ten more minutes, got my cab, and was back in time to drop at about 02:45, sore and hoarse from the night's festivities.

    I was stunned by how many drunken revellers were out on Union Street (essentially the High Street of Aberdeen) at two in the morning. They certainly weren't rioting or anything, but it was absolute bedlam, with people chasing one another up and down the pavements, women dressed to the nines, people carrying food in takeaway boxes and eating as they walked, shouting, crowds going to and fro. From having passed several clubs, I know that the Blue Lamp must have closed down relatively early by comparison to some of the other clubs in town. The cab driver said that this sort of spectacle was to be expected on the first and last weekends of every month, but that he wasn't sure why so many people were out in the middle of the month. I can truly say that I've never seen anything like it in my life.

    Not surprisingly, I don't plan to repeat this sort of excursion on a regular basis, but it's sort of nice to know that as old and austere as I am, I can still go out and party with the best of 'em... And a bunch of hippies.

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    What's Your Grid, Aberdeen?

    One of the things I'd like to do while I'm in the British Isles and Europe is to revisit all of the spots where I've stayed overnight, and take grid coordinates with my GPS. It's something I've wanted to do since late 2007. I've never had the opportunity or the funding to make that goal happen... Until now.

    I started the project on Thursday after class... And a trip to the pub with my classmates. (A guy has to have priorities, right?) I've been looking back at maps for eight years now, but there's a difference between that and finding it on foot. I got close - Rubislaw Terrace - before pulling out my mobile and temporarily enabling the location function to figure out where I was. I hadn't brought a map, but I knew that I'd have the digital resources, so I didn't really need one.

    Before I go on, I want to state for the record that I'm adamant that everyone - particularly men - should be able to navigate without using a GPS, and particularly a car GPS. I've used a car GPS on one short trip, and by the time I'd been there two or three days, I was nearly solid on my routes to the point of not needing the GPS anymore. I learned how to use a handheld GPS for more specialized purposes while I was working for the Army a few years ago, so I've continued to use those. Anyone who shares my philosophy may enjoy this article from a few years ago.

    At any rate, I took the bus from campus to the vicinity of Union Terrace Gardens, which is adjacent to Union Street - essentially the High Street of Aberdeen. From there, I did my best to follow a route that took me in a general westerly direction, and a touch north. I saw a few things that seemed familiar, and found an area that seemed quite familiar, but I seemed to remember a busy intersection at which I'd had to cross two or three streets in order to get where I was going. At that point, I pulled out my phone and used Google Maps and the GPS function to figure out where I was relative to where my destination was. With that sorted out, I resumed walking, arriving a couple of minutes later at Queen's Cross.

    As you can see, Queen's Cross is noteworthy in that the middle of the roundabout is graced by a statue of Queen Victoria, easily recognizable despite the fading light of the early evening.

    Once I was through the maze of Queen's Cross, it wasn't long until I found the hostel. The grid coordinates are as follows:

    30V WJ 52650 33587

    Having eaten relatively little during the day, and being near the area, I headed to what has become my favorite kebab shop (more on that later), back down Albyn Place to Union Street, and then up Union Street to Bridge Street. In total, Google says that I walked about two and a half miles, which isn't bad for a guy trying to drop weight to get back into fighting condition. Here's a map of my route.

    Now that I have the grid coordinates for the hostel in Aberdeen, I have three grids left to take in Scotland: Orkney, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. I'm not sure whether I'll stay in Glasgow or Edinburgh or not, but I'll certainly be spending as much quality time in Orkney as I possibly can.

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    The Songs that Remind You

    I spent the Summer of 2004 working as a pallbearer in West Sussex, England, and it was the time of my life. One of the things I've always remembered about that time were a number of songs that played on the radio during that time.

  • Natasha Bedingfield: "These Words"
  • Anastacia: "Sick and Tired"
  • Keane: "Bedshaped"
  • Damien Rice: "Cannonball"
  • Kristian Leontieu: "Shining"
  • The Darkness: "Love is Only a Feeling"
  • Scissor Sisters: "Laura"

    I may be missing a couple, but if I am, I guarantee you that if I heard them playing, it would remind me of the Summer of '04. Similarly, I expect that I'll pick up a few songs on the radio here in Scotland that will remind me of my time in Aberdeen whenever I hear them for the rest of my life. I've picked up a couple of them thus far, so I figured I'd share them in case they're not destined to play on American radios. The first is "Boy" by Nina Nesbitt, who's actually from Edinburgh.

    The second is "Disconnected" by Keane - somewhat comforting, given that Keane was one of the bands I discovered in 2004.

    Of course, it's a touch disconcerting that both of these are break-up songs. Maybe I'll hear some other good music that's a bit less melancholy as the year continues.
  • Friday, October 5, 2012

    A Triumphant Return to Orkney

    Aberdeen is brilliant, but once you've been anywhere a while, it's nice to stretch your legs and see some other sights. (Yes, I realize that I've been here for less than two weeks.) I've been anticipating my arrival in Aberdeen, and my return to the island paradise of Orkney, for eight years now, so I'm chomping at the bit. I'm going to be patient and give things a couple of weeks to settle a bit more, and then I'm going to head to Orkney.

    View Larger Map

    I spoke on the phone Wednesday with Orcadian Dave, who took the helm at BBC Radio Orkney when my previous contact in Orkney retired a few years back. He seemed thrilled to hear from me, and will be providing me with a bit of support while I'm in the area. At this point, it's a matter of establishing firm dates, a firm route, and booking what I need to book around. My previous contact basically took a solid day off work to take me around the islands, but I don't plan to prevail upon Dave like that, so I intend to hire a car. Of course, I'll be taking my camera and putting plenty of great pictures up over the next few months. I also don't intend for this to be my only trip to Orkney while I'm in the area - if possible, I'd also like to see Eday and North Ronaldsay if at all possible, though that could take two additional trips.

    Woohoo! I'm heading back to Orkney!

    Thursday, October 4, 2012

    The Courses: Strategic Theory

    Okay, so a bit of background. I'm enrolled in the MSc, formerly the MLitt, in Strategic Studies. This consists of two courses during the Autumn semester, two courses during the Spring semester, and the dissertation during the Summer semester. This year, a new option has been introduced that combines the Strategic Studies curriculum with the Law curriculum to produce an MSc in Strategic Studies and International Law. The result is that all students in either program share one course, Strategic Theory. Beyond that, the two programs diverge, with traditional Strategic Studies students all taking Strategic Intelligence, and Strategic Studies and International Law students taking The Evolution of International Law in a World of Crises. There will be similar splits during the Spring semester.

    For Strategic Theory (which is taught by The Director), the agenda is as follows:

  • Strategy and Security
  • Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Van Creveld
  • The Conduct of War 1648 - 1945
  • The Military Instrument
  • The Democratic Peace
  • Deterrence
  • Limited War
  • Alliance
  • Arms Control
  • Military Intervention
  • Unconventional War and Terrorism
  • Counter-Insurgency
  • Economic Sanctions

    The Director will lecture on each of these topics, and his lectures will be followed several weeks later by an individual or team presentation on each topic, to include a 2500 word memorandum. I'll be doing my team presentation on Counter-Insurgency with CN Odin. I get the impression that everyone is looking forward to it. There's also an in-class essay later this month on one of the following four topics:

    1) What is strategy, and how useful is strategic analysis in national security policy-making?
    2) Identify the tenets of the strategic thought of two of the following: Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Van Creveld. Assess their validity to modern conditions of conflict.
    3) Explain why and how the conduct of war was transformed between 1815 and 1914.
    4) Consider the view that the use of the military instrument is no longer a viable foreign policy option.

    At present, I plan to write on option three, as it draws on many of my strengths from my long-term study of military history.

    The final examination will take place in January, and will take three hours. For both this and the in-class essay, I'll be drawing on my years as a history undergrad, and particularly the influence of one professor in particular whose exams are my single leading risk factor in the development of carpal tunnels syndrome later in life.

    For textbooks, the Director has prescribed the following:

  • John Baylis et al.: Strategy in the Contemporary World
  • Colin Gray: Modern Strategy
  • Elinor C. Sloan: Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction

    The Director actually told me and a classmate that it's physically impossible to read all three of them, plus all of the articles he's prescribed, but recommended that we take a sample of them. That's extremely refreshing, particularly compared to other courses I've taken in the past in which hundreds upon hundreds of pages of reading were prescribed with the expectation that students would retain all of it.

    Is it safe to assume that I'm quite pleased to be here, doing all of this?
  • Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: A Convenient Juxtaposition

    At my alma mater in the Pacific Northwest, there were plenty of places to go for a pint, but they were all off campus - plenty directly adjacent, but still off-campus. Conversely, the campus bookstore was a giant facility that dealt in textbooks, electronics, art and clerical supplies, and school memorabilia.

    Welcome to Aberdeen, which is the exact opposite.

    Source: Google Street View
    The St. Machar Bar (not to be confused with the Cathedral Church of St. Machar, which is within walking distance of the pub) is within the general area of campus, no doubt owing to the fact that the growth of the King's Campus over the past five centuries has required the University to intersperse its new buildings where space was available in an area that had already been settled by private dwellings. Thus, in addition to being within walking distance of the Cathedral, the St. Machar is also within walking distance of every building on King's Campus, as well as several bus stops. As if this weren't enough to deem it the perfect pub, the St. Machar serves Scapa whisky and Dark Island, both of which are created in the island paradise of Orkney.

    Conversely, a private book shop, Blackwell's University Bookshop, supplies the University's students with their books. Like the St. Machar Bar, which is directly adjacent...

    ... Blackwell's could probably be considered an "off-campus" establishment, save for the fact that its private facilities are located within the general confines of campus.

    View Larger Map

    Simply crackin', mates!

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Grad School: A Scam!?

    Maybe graduate school is a massive mistake?

    I don't know you about you folks, but I found it amusing! CollegeHumor made a similar video a while back. It's less tasteful than that first one, so viewer discretion is advised.